Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

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Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

Postby Lomax on January 12th, 2017, 7:25 pm 

I might as well start using this subforum for reviews of what I read, when it's philosophy-related.

Like Christian Rudder's blog, OkTrends, Dataclysm is infused with energy, colour, intelligence and wit, and it has the rare virtue of making statistics interesting. Rudder is the co-founder and CEO of dating site OKCupid, and as such has data about millions of people to work with. He finds correlations between what a girl drinks and whether she puts out; what movies you like and whether your relationship will work; he shows that it is possible to infer a person's race from the aggregate of the words they use (even entirely without the obvious examples).

But there's a bigger, less fun issue which he touches on. On an early episode of the Cracked podcast, Jason Pargin (aka. David Wong) argued that the youth of the digital age has no fear or even clear concept of the menace of totalitarianism, because the rise of the internet coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union. Or, as Cracked worded it: People born after 1995 can't understand the book "1984". He argues that the damaging upshot of this is that the youth are not sufficiently concerned about our privacy, a complacency which may come back to bite us.

Anyway, Rudder's book shows that more cautious users are wrong for the right reasons. The information you put on the internet does indeed make you traceable; but this is true regardless of whether you reveal your real name and face. The agents of metadata can tell your IQ from your Facebook likes, your location from your friends and web history (almost regardless of what your web history actually is: when you load a page, it takes note of where and when you are), and whether you're going to break up with your girlfriend - before you can know yourself. It has enough on you to figure out your entire psychology and physiology. Google has special software for figuring out the time and place of disease outbreaks, based on what terms people are searching. It is not actually necessary, for this software to work, that the people know what is wrong with them.

I reread an old David Aaronovitch article for another perspective. He argues that

Speaking as someone whose Communist Party family was subject to “content interception” by the state over several years, I can say that this [fear of intrusive metadata] is nonsense...Your metadata divulges something only when it shows a pattern that then causes it to be interrogated further. Before that point, it is just another series of numbers out of several billion.

and that

Though Snowden, Greenwald and the Guardian team report their sometimes comic sense of paranoia that the infallible NSA will track them down (possibly using spy cabbies and co-opted Triad gangs), in fact it is Snowden’s parents who first notice his departure. Even three months after the Snowden stories strike, the NSA has no idea what it has lost, or how important it is.

At no point in this saga has the NSA looked remotely scary, or even slightly competent.

The same NSA who Rudder argues hires only la crème de la crème. Maybe they are not quite the sinister genius organisation we might fear. Then again, maybe the reassuring incompetence of the NSA is also exactly what's so worrying about it. A common argument made by libertarians is that, however benevolent an organisation, its heirs and successors might not be (picture Donald Trump in the latest South Park being shown around, given access to the surveillance community and the nuclear codes, and exclaiming "Thanks, Obama!"). I'll leave you again with Aaronovitch:

Think about all that and ask yourself: does not the Snowden affair make you feel very much less safe? The man has been very impressive. His account of his motivations has been restrained and convincing. There could not have been a better public face for the anti-NSA case.

But what the fuck? How was this allowed to happen? Just three years after a young US army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, was able to download and leak a spectacular amount of classified information, here is a young man of 29, a private contractor – one of 60,000 such private employees – working directly from NSA offices where work was focused on China. A young man whose entry to the NSA was unaccompanied by his CIA employment file. A young man who says, after his defection, "I had access to full rosters of anybody working at the NSA. The entire intelligence community and undercover assets around the world. The locations of every station we have, all of their missions. If I just wanted to damage the US I could have shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon."

Everything anyone could need to know about you is in one room, and its walls are made of glass.
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Re: Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

Postby BadgerJelly on January 13th, 2017, 2:00 am 

This makes me think about what I've been reading recently "Madness and Civilization".

I relate this in respect to "civilization" creating social boundaries that are physically defined by buildings. In a strange sense maybe this soft "isolationism" is what the internet counters. It is a way of moving back towards a communal society rather than one of private individuals?

I am not sure if I agree with what you say this guy says about the youth today. I think, as mentioned elsewhere by Alan Moore several weeks ago, that the youth are more aware of misinformation through use of media such as twitter. They understand how a few words can be taken out of context and how words can be used to change peoples views.

No sensible government keeps sensitive information on a computer. To do such a thing would be pure stupidity. They use typewriters not word processors.

I just started reading 1984 again. I guess right now someone could literally be watching me through the camera on my phone ... how would I know? Does what I write on these forums send out certain warning signs to governemnt officials? Are officials overly concerned with the activities of the general public as to start monitoring them en masse? Can they spare the resources?

When it comes to information being leaked I assume it was done on purpose. If the information was taken from a computer I know it was not really important information (or not regarded as such by those storing it). Of course I am assuming a certain degree of intelligence and care. Stupidity is also a possibility.

I find the whole Trump thing quite interesting and puzzling. In regard to him calling out "fake media" I mean. Are there actually people out believing everything they heard on the news prior to this? I figured out when I was a teenager that the news was merely a propaganda machine and that if some mundane report was on TV there was more than likely something appalling being glossed over. Have I been really naïve to in my assumptions that people are not really that bloody stupid? Of course I can accept that some people will take the news at face value and that even the most intelligent people.do so too from time to time. When it comes to important issues though I assume people are cynical enough to question what is being told to them, how it is being told, what is not being said and what they wish you to think about their report.

I remember being in the UK before the invasion of Iraq. I remember that most people I knew saw right through it. They knew it was about oil, they doubted any claim of WMD and it really did not seem like the majority of the population agreed with the action taken by the government.

Some of the blatant lies sent out by the bbc, refering to Syria, has been quite nasty. Editting reports to include "chemical weapons" was not lost to the public. Given todays technology and the ease of manipulation of reports we can never really be certain that what we are seeing and hearing is what is actually happening. It is probably possible to fake an entire war in some remote part of the world and discredit (or remove) any counter evidence put onto the internet.

I think this is a very serious problem for people out there wishing to inform people of actual events. The technology to make fake reports is already here. Once it is easier for everyone to use then we have a big problem if groups people (organisations and/or governments) wish to manipulate information.

This leave us in a position where we cannot commit so readily. We have to keep in mind that what we think may be wrong. I think this is actually a great benefit for humanity. Rather than acting on what we hear and think so readily we'll develop a habit of doubt and critical analysis.

I do worry about how a government could easily access information about the population and use current trending fears to manipulate votes. I would be very surprised if governments have not been doing this already. Obviously the creation and sensationalisation of "terrorism" has been a very common vehicle for inciting fear in the public and has subdued public opinions against some horrific actions taken against so called "terrorism".

There is only one country to fear and there has only been one country to fear for the past few decades. It sure as hell isn't Russia and nor is it China (whose borders are hemmed in by foreign soldiers from you know where).
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Re: Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

Postby Lomax on January 13th, 2017, 8:16 am 

BadgerJelly » January 13th, 2017, 7:00 am wrote:I am not sure if I agree with what you say this guy says about the youth today. I think, as mentioned elsewhere by Alan Moore several weeks ago, that the youth are more aware of misinformation through use of media such as twitter. They understand how a few words can be taken out of context and how words can be used to change peoples views.

I think that's true, but misinformation isn't what Pargin's talking about (although it is a related theme, both in 1984 and the actual USSR). He's talking about our willingness to accept government authority - intrusive measures, surveillance, etc. I do think we're more flippant than older generations are about the fact that in theory both the state and certain private companies could monitor all of our online activity.

BadgerJelly » January 13th, 2017, 7:00 am wrote:I remember being in the UK before the invasion of Iraq. I remember that most people I knew saw right through it. They knew it was about oil, they doubted any claim of WMD and it really did not seem like the majority of the population agreed with the action taken by the government.

Well I think you reveal a real problem with the flow of information. The people who say "the media lies and nobody questions it" really mean "nobody who disagrees with me questions it". Both your propositions - that Iraq had no WMD, and that the war was about oil - as well as the implicit claim that the war was waged on whether Iraq had WMD - have been taken as given from the start. Everybody's mind was made up, pre-facts.

Actually, Iraq is a vast country, and just because we found no functioning WMD doesn't mean that there were none. Mahdi Obeidi, the man in charge of Iraq's nuclear reactor, wrote a book detailing how he was ordered by Saddam Hussein to bury a bomb in his garden (and did so). When the Al Hatteen "munitions production plant that international inspectors called a complete potential nuclear weapons laboratory" and the Al Adwan facility, which "produced equipment used for uranium enrichment" while "the kinds of machinery at the various sites included equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs", were systematically dismantled, shortly after the invasion, and transported away by teams with flatbed trucks, over a period of four weeks, the New York Times somewhat laughably reported this as "looting", as if it had been undertaken by panicky civilians in need of a quick dollar. Manwhile we know from Gaddafi's post-2003-Iraq-invasion document revelations that Iraq was part of the AQ Khan network, attempting to buy nukes from North Korea. Even Hans Blix, in his UN weapons inspections report, repeatedly acknowledged that the Iraqi government had not made the slightest effort to comply with the inspections (a responsibility which was incumbent on it in UNSC resolution 1441).

You would think, from anti-war reportage, that the existence of WMD was all that Bush and Blair's case for war rested on, wouldn't you? You can read Bush's full UN address here - note that he makes a lot more arguments than the WMD one: Hussein's harbouring of international terrorists, repeated aggression toward neighbouring states, flouting of the UN resolutions placed upon him, the "oil for food" exploitation, complete lack of human rights, totalitarianism, WMD, and Iraq's status as a lynchpin in the centre of the region.

Nor was Bush's oft-misrepeated "single question" merely about the existence of WMD. It was "Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed, as required by Resolution 1441, or has it not?" Resolution 1441 asks not just that Hussein disarm WMD, but also cease the production of various other types of missile, cease attempting to purchase said weapons (which he had been trying to do, through the AQ Khan network), and finally get around to compensating Kuwait. It also states that "failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations." Even Hans Blix stated in his UN report that "Iraq appears not to have come to an acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it".

You don't hear much of this reported very often, do you? I would say there is quite a logical leap between "we didn't find WMD on this 437,072 km^2 land, and Iraq did not comply with our efforts to look" and "there was no WMD in Iraq".

As for the oil claim, it stands in need of evidence, as well as relevance. When the US did gain control of the reserves it was selling them off for $1.15-$1.90 per barrel, despite the fact that bidders had already offered £4 per barrel. An auction was set up in which Russia, Malaysia and Angola all did better than the US or the UK. The US doesn't particularly rely on the middle-East for oil anyway: 36% of its oil is domestic, 22% comes from Canada, 11% from Venezuela. If I remember right it gets less than 20% of its oil imports from all the middle-Eastern countries combined. And when several of them went on oil strike in the 80s, the US simply took its custom elsewhere, as the most centrally important economy on the planet can choose to do. It really doesn't need to do anything as complicated and domestically controversial as starting a war in order to get oil contracts. Meanwhile the UK gets most of its oil from the North Sea (that is to say: domestically) and half its imports from Norway. It scores very low on import dependency.

None of which is to say I really care whether it was about oil or not. Should I be taking instruction from the people who prefer Hussein to Halliburton? Now the Arabian-Iranian oil duopoly of the region is undermined, and we have a big ugly faceless multinational corporation in charge of the oil instead of a man who sets entire fields of it on fire and ravages the surrounding land and air as his forces retreat from a country they attempted to annex. I don't consider this bad news.
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Re: Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

Postby BadgerJelly on January 13th, 2017, 10:20 am 

Yeah, I just think that the more aware we are of the lies the less likely the youth will be to accept rule from such people ... maybe not though!?

That said I do think people are a little too willing to hand out information and sadly it is damn hard to go anywhere or do anything without given out numerous personal details.
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Re: Book: Christian Rudder - Dataclysm

Postby Lomax on January 13th, 2017, 10:39 am 

BadgerJelly » January 13th, 2017, 3:20 pm wrote:Yeah, I just think that the more aware we are of the lies the less likely the youth will be to accept rule from such people ... maybe not though!?

Well I think you're probably right on that. The USSR was partly discredited by its lies about the Prague Spring, which people saw through instantly.
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